Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Invasion and Occupation

For those of you who don't yet know, I am a Vietnam Veteran and an Anti-war Protester: then and now. I was diagnosed with PTSD by the Veterans' Administration in 1985 (the first year it occurred to me to ask "Whhhaaaaat?"); I received a disability rating in 1996, which was upgraded to 100% service-connected in 2004.

The Indochina Wars are ancient history to a good many Americans, for we are a radically ahistorical people: always ready to pull up stakes, "Move on to Texas", and forget what we left "back there". It always surprises me that it's been forty years (on April 4th) since I arrived in Vietnam; the memories are often more immediate and pressing than what I did this week. I am not the only one; I got an Anonymous comment this week on the "Quang Tri, Summer, 1968" thread.

Still, many of us--the survivors of violence, substance abuse, and self-destruction, the victims of which have outnumbered those killed during the war since the early 1990s--now have been warehoused in relative comfort; we lead quiet and modest lives for the most part, in out of the way places. We go far out of our way to avoid any semblance of conflict. We are remarkably gentle and often loving people, once you get through the veneer. We keep a low profile, rarely expressing ourselves with those we do not yet trust.

Remember Gulf War I? Run by Vietnam Veterans like Schwartzkopf and Powell, it was the Anti-Vietnam: quick, clean, did the job and came home to much acclaim. We vets were glad to join the acclaim, in part because we knew it was partly a guilty reaction and a wish to recognize us, however belatedly and indirectly. No need to say more to civilians; I've been in group with GW I vets.

And now we are at the fifth anniversary of the (Forgive me!) Godde damned invasion and occupation of Iraq for the domestic political benefit of the worst President in American History and his collection of fuckwitted callous arrogant thugs to distract the public from their utter incompetence and cluelessness about how to interact with the former colonial world. They lie to exploit the fears of the people for their own gain, and they trash what were once honored symbols of our country as they lead us, please, Godde, not irreparably, into fascism. And, once again, as in the Sixties and Seventies, our Congressional leaders put their Constitutional duty off the table, and posture for re-election. And what have we veterans been doing?

When I got back in 1969, I hoped, and prayed, and worked, and begged, that the American people would learn something from what we had done. That way, at least, there would have been a positive outcome from the blind arrogance, the futile overwhelming violence. Yeah, right.
The speed with which we as a people went from outrage to burial was stunning; despairing, I turned to my own affairs. Stunned and disgusted , I watched the Reagan/ Bush counter-revolution; if this is what my fellow citizens are capable of, better for us both if I avoid them.

And then Junior, who managed to make Dan Quayle look good, the world's best argument against inherited privilege, was given the golden opportunity; so he continued to read My Pet Goat until his handlers took him off-stage. Promptly, his advisers hid the evidence they had ignored, and made up a connection against a country, Poppy's old nemesis, full of oil: surprise! They drooled nonsense about "Mushroom clouds" which the press release transfer media presented as fact. After all, they were Very Important People in Positions of Public Trust.

Some of us not so important people demonstrated, of course. We argued the case was flimsy, and that war wasn't the only, or even a good option. But, within a couple of months, Captain Codpiece's media consultants declared "Mission Accomplished!". But nobody came home yet. And now nearly four thousand will have come home in secret, in aluminum tubes at midnight. And tens of thousands will drool in powered wheelchairs while their mothers adjust to a life of caregiver. And hundreds of thousands will fight to get what their government promised them, and be denied, until they give up, or kill themselves in one way or another: unnoticed again.

Five years. A presidential election. Until January of last year, a completely complaint Congress run by a man with slaves in American Samoan factories. Five years of demonstrations. Of supporting alternative candidates, including combat veterans slurred as "soft on security." Of ranting on the internet (Natassihusb--"Nat"; read it backwards) Of a Fascist court. Of a completely embarrassing foreign policy on display to a world that was sympathetic, briefly, in 2001, until they were told their pathetic and stupid help wasn't needed. Of the decimation of professional Intelligence, Foreign Policy, Defense, and Legal personnel, who were crushed and driven out by the the White House, AKA Dick Cheney.

And now we who have cried, and begged, and wept, and despaired to be delivered from the plague we called upon ourselves, are being driven from our homes, are losing our retirements, and face the whirlwind. We do not even dare to ask for justice from the Hague, for example, but only that the storm cease, and we be left to piece together our lives.

It has been a very painful five years to live through. The Abu Ghraib scandal was especially difficult for me, who had dealt with POWs. "Disappointing" seems too much an understatement, but we veterans are used to disappointment after all this time. We learned, long ago, not to expect anything for what we were asked to do, and did, except heartache and bitterness. We learned to watch others succeed, while we struggled. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former Pastor, has been in the news for his "anti-American" views lately; the difference between him and a lot of us, and not just veterans watching the horrors of another useless war, is that he's being noticed.

There's "shock and awe" this last couple of weeks that this is going to cost us more than $3 trillion dollars in direct costs, and multiple times more than that over the coming decades, even if we ended it promptly in the Spring of next year, which all sane people hope for. But there are the other costs, in lives diverted and destroyed, in so many needs not met, in all the slow, little seen ways we destroy our own security and pull our own civilization down to the dust. This war, too, will continue to bring woe to many who were young a few years ago.

Let's end this.

The Invasion of Grenada

I didn't want a monument,
not even one as sober as that
vast black wall of broken lives.
I didn't want a postage stamp.
I didn't want a road beside the Delaware
River with a sign proclaiming:
"Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway."

What I wanted was a simple recognition
of the limits of our power as a nation
to inflict our will on others.
What I wanted was an understanding
that the world is neither black-and-white
nor ours.

What I wanted
was an end to monuments.

W. D. Ehrhart


Paul said...

So powerful.

Thank you for your honesty and your courage in sharing. I am sorry for all the pain you must bear.

St Peter, at Pentecost, said, "We are witnesses of these things." Together we witness to the truths of our lives. Whether people listen or take heed is beyond our control, but witness we must.


Jane R said...

Lament is protest. Lament is the honorable biblical tradition in which we must dwell today. Thank you for your lament, for the courage to speak, and for staying alive.

God's peace to you, brother.

captainkona said...

Well said, John.

Nothing knows the pain of war like experience.

That's what amazes me about Bush. For someone that supposedly "served", he seems to have forgotten the Six P's.

Might have helped his legacy, no?


Kirstin said...

I am without words. All I can say, is thank you.

FranIAm said...

Oh Johnieb. I sit here with tears running down my face and my heart opening up to reach out to your own.

Your voice and your witness speak volumes. Thank you for sharing this with us- both your experiences and your own insights.

I send you my every good thought and I know that our hearts are united in the quest for healing and peace. I too have suffered from PTSD, different reasons - same monster.


pj said...

Johnieb, thank you. And if no one else has said it lately, thank you for your service to this country, too.

I don't know what else to say.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Johnieb, you da man! I had chills as I read your eloquent words. You know, don't you? You know what war is in a way that most of us do not. I join with others to thank you for your service.

War is hell.

The Pagan Sphinx said...

Dear johnieb,

Beautifully written. I will be coming back to read it again, as there is so much to think and feel here. Your words penetrate, making my own simply fail. Thank you again and again.

With sincerest regards,
The Pagan Sphinx

johnieb said...

Pagan Sphinx,

despite what I said yesterday, there's more than great bottoms on your blog. I hope you noticed I already linked ya.

Batocchio said...

Very well put. I appreciate your perspective. It's sad the current administration's perspective is almost completely the opposite. I wrote a post about it last year, but as I'm sure you know, the current gang believe the stab-in-the-back crap over Vietnam, and not coincidentally are trying to sell the same crap now on Iraq, while trying to run out the clock to pass it to the next president. They have no shame, no conscience, no sense of public duty, but sadly, as if often the case, it's others who will continue to suffer and die as a result.

eileen said...


My da's a Viet Nam vet too. He was there in '66-'67. - Da Nang, I think...He doesn't talk about it much.

It's a shame, that as a species, we allow ourselves to be led around by the nose, and sacrifice our young for "interests".

It's an even bigger shame that it appears we can't learn shit.

I'm sorry - for all of us.

Plus....you called Shrub "fuckwit" which I love...

johnieb said...

Actually, Fluffster, I called his evil minions "fuckwitted...thugs"; him I called "Captain Codpiece."

Is your Da ever online? Da Nang likely makes him a Marine, or in support of Marines.

susan s. said...

Oh, Johnieb, thank you for this. I had friends in Viet Nam. One was killed 3 weeks before he was to come home. The others were never the same either.

Thank you for your witness here and everywhere.

Doorman-Priest said...

What a fabulous post. Thank you for your anger and disappointment. How positive that is.

The Pagan Sphinx said...

Mr. Johnieb,
I am honored.

May I link to this post? I have visitors who may not otherwise see this. I would also like to ask you for permission to print this post and perhaps put it up on the staff buletin board at my school? I'm not sure if I will be granted permission, as it is overall quite a conservative school community in a very small rural town. But I can try.

The P.S.

Paul Martin said...


Hugely powerful message. One day they will listen.

Ed said...


I came here on Franiam's recommendation. Thank you for sharing this. It's a very powerful piece. I'm at a loss for further words.


klady said...

Thank you for this. It still astonishes me that we even came close to walking into another Viet Nam -- worse yet, this time, because there was no government or identifiable group for us to to support or a civil war to claim to be stopping. We went in, destroyed the internal structures of Iraqi society, the police and the courts along with their military, not just the tyranny of Hussein, and then started wringing our hands about how difficult it will be to leave. What you and others told us returning from Vietnam was all over the news, t.v., magazines, later studied in schools, so how and why did we do it all over again, only so much worse? I'll never, never understand.

Diane said...

Oh Johnnieb, thank you for telling the truth...
that's all I can say...

johnieb said...

Hey Pagan,

Sure, I'd be happy to have you be the first to link to one of my posts. And you may *** a few letters if that helps things at school.

Yer in Western Mass, right? There's a group in Amherst who have vets going around to schools to share experiences. I did that from Hartford a couple of decades ago, but Amherst is too far to be a regular part of such a group.

A one shot deal is not impossible, though.

johnieb said...

And welcome to all you FNGs; stop by again.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I want to echo PJ, johnieb---thank you for what you tried to do for your country. I am appalled and ashamed that you and your compatriots are so badly served by the nation to which you gave so much.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a church friend who had served in Vietnam. He was the first person who ever conveyed to me what war is REALLY like---weeks wearing the same dirty clothes, fungal infections from the inability to get clean, the constant weight of both gear and fear. The realization that you are being led by people who do not put themselves in harm's way.

When I go to the airport these days and see young people in uniform--the boys just a few years older than my beloved son---it makes me want to scream and kidnap them to keep them safe. If Bush believes this war is worth fighting, he needs to go to the front line himself, and not ask children to do his dirty work for him.

Prayers for you and for all who serve. And prayers that we will finally wake up and put an end to this nightmare.

Mike in Texas said...

What a wonderful gift you've given, Johnieb. Thank you.

BTW, I may have mentioned this to you before, but in case I haven't ... Although I'm in Texas now, I'm originally from the Berkshires of Western Mass.

johnieb said...

And I'm originally from the NE Texas/ SE Oklahoma/ South Arkansas area, now in CT.

Thanks, all y'all, for the kind words; this is a rant that has long antecedents.

eileen said...

Hey johnie - Me da is not online - only to shop from Bass Pro or RedHeads- hee hee

He was indeed a Marine. Trained at Paris Island. I'm sad to say, I'm not even sure what Battalion he was with...that's how little he talks about it.

And when he does talk about it, the stories I hear, are about guys gettin' likkered up gettin' tattooes, busting a bottle of nukmam in the hooch and having to move, or who won how much money for eating a cockaroach.

He NEVER talks about combat. He was an interpreter...can barely remember a lick of it now though. Force of will, he thinks.

johnieb said...

I, too, was language-qualified, and still understand a (very) little. I occasionally worked for the first six months with the 3rd MarDiv near Dong Ha, on the other side of Quang Tri City.

Bah! I still use Nuoc Mam, though I'm out right now. (We shared meals with our Vietnamese counterparts; as a consequence, I've eaten some things way past Nuoc Mam: don't ask)

I don't know how much time Marine Interpreters spent with Infantry companies; my circumstances dictated it: detached to a Brigade HQ, and enough choppers available to get me off the bases a couple of times a week.

Suzer said...

Johnieb - Thank you for your service, and thank you for your witness here. What you have to share is very powerful. I wish we could have folks with your experiences come speak at every church, every school, every workplace. So many of us saw through this charade of a war before it even happened. When the word "Iraq" began to appear in the media after 9/11 it seemed too carefully placed. I said to myself, "we're going to war in Iraq." And golly gee, we did.

I loved history class. I paid attention. I learned from it. I suspect many did not, and need to hear the stories and the history over and over again. And hopefully, someday, they will learn. I am dismayed -- no, more than that -- disgusted by and ashamed of the current administration. I have done as much as I know - I've voted, I've written letters, I've demonstrated, all to no avail. I hope and pray that someone will someday be brave enough to bring the current leaders of this country up on charges for war crimes, but I won't hold my breath. They're laughing all the way to the bank, over a road of corpses.

I'm linking this on my blog, and hope that's o.k. with you. My blog's private, but there's a few folks who I think would like to read this.

johnieb said...

The more, the better; link away, all y'all. Communicating is the point, after all, isn't it?

Ken said...

John, your service credits you. What you have paid for it credits no one, least of all those meretricious bastards who robbed you and your generation, and are keeping at it.

I am still close to shame over not having served. I was called twice: once I psyched out, the 2nd time I was legitimately rejected. But somewhere, somehow, there were men who went over there because some of us over here thought we were getting over on the system or just got lucky. I have a friend who enlisted in the Marines and still will not talk about his punishment tour in something they called The Caves. Let's say it must've been awful because they offered him that or a trip to Leavenworth. He'd tried to frag an officer.

I DO hold a certain degree of satisfaction that I was not one of those antiwar types who showed up at airbases and screamed "Baby killer" at returning combat veterans. It seemed obscene and wrong then, and seems worse than that now.

I feel helpless, John. Many of us do. I thought that the time for investigations and hearings is gone, and it's time to get the torches and pitchforks. I will say right here for that I don't discount revolution as a means to an end. But they've got the guns. They've got a Nascar President with the true sobriety of a guy in a doorway, and this country is fulfilling its destiny as the land of the endless penis waving contest.

I don't know what to do anymore. The urge to give up, to not vote, to withdraw is overwhelming. But we can't. Can we?

wanderingmind said...

Clap Clap Clap.......You my very good friend and fellow disallusioned veteran have found your voice. I thought that in the past you blabbered in prose and mostly cons, but alas you have joined the lower class rectumus of us that try to say what they mean. Ya know what I mean brother man?

johnieb said...

Yeah, ED; I'm used to interpreting yer crap.

Kiss, Sweetie.

eileen said...

Apparently, the Nuoc Mam involved in said incident, was dug up from out of the ground and passed off as "hot sauce". Hee hee hee. Rotten Fish Heads...PEW!

His other favorite thing to tell us, was about all the stuff the Vietnamese would put in coffee - massive sugar, hot sauce, eggs, etc., because it was so...bland.

johnieb said...

Not "rotten", Fluffie: carefully fermented; there's a difference.

I guess there's no point in asking what he thought of the Ocelot's earlobes? "They're lovely."

thepoetryman said...

What I wanted was an understanding
that the world is neither black-and-white
nor ours.

What I wanted
was an end to monuments.

Yes. Patriotism and all its trappings is a crutch for the dull minded.

Wonderful post.